I’m always interested in links between Welsh and Classics, and my most recent fascination is with the days of the week. I’ve long loved the syncretic tradition in English (and Dutch too) which combines Roman and Germanic gods:
Monday (Dutch maan-dag) is literally the day of the moon.
Tuesday (dins-dag) is the day of Tiw, a Norse god associated with warfare.
Wednesday (woens-dag) is the day of Wodan, a Germanic god of poetry (among other things).
Thursday (donder-dag – literally thunder-day) is the day of Thor, the Norse god of… thunder.
Friday (vrij-dag) is the day of Frigg, Anglo-Saxon goddess of sexuality.
It’s only for the weekend that English moves to the Roman tradition: Saturday (zater-dag) is the day of Saturn, father of Jupiter. Sunday (zon-dag) finally is the day dedicated to the sun.
The naming of the days of the week was in fact established by the Romans some time in the first centuries of the Roman Empire. The days were named after the planets: sun (dies solis), moon (dies lunae), Mars (dies Martis), Mercury (dies Mercurii), Jupiter (dies Iovi), Venus (dies Veneris), and Saturn (dies Saturni).
In English and Dutch, even though the Latin roots have been replaced with Germanic roots (even for moon and sun which replace the roots lun- and sol-), the deities associated with certain days are (to varying degrees) equivalents of the Roman gods: Tiw and Mars are both gods of warfare, Wodan and Mercury are both associated with poetry (and bringing souls of the dead to the underworld), Thor and Jupiter both like to swing their thunderbolt, and Frigg and Venus are both goddesses of sexuality. Most modern Germanic and Scandinavian languages adhere to the same selection of Germanic and Latin roots (though Wednesday is sometimes called ‘midweek’ instead and Saturday can also be ‘wash-day’, which removes the Latin roots entirely).
I had anticipated that the Celtic tradition to which Welsh belongs would have replaced Roman gods with Celtic deities – but was surprised to find that Welsh retains all the Latin roots for the days of the week:
Monday in Welsh is dydd Llun – dies luna, the moon (in Welsh, llun is pronounced as [cheen] – I’ve long struggled with the ll, but if you place your tongue against your top row of teeth so the edge of your tongue and sides of your teeth touch softly, and then breathe out air sharply between tongue and teeth, that’s the sound you’ll get… It’s called a voiceless lateral fricative, if that’s your thing.)
Tuesday is dydd Mawrth – dies Martis, the day of Mars (w being pronounced as [oo] so the word is [Ma-oorth[).
Wednesday is dydd Mercher – dies Mercurii, the day of Mercury.
Thursday is dydd Iau – dies Iovis. I found Iau (pronounced [ee-aa-oo], that’s right!) difficult to remember at the start, but if you consider that Latin could write v as u, then iau is really iou-is without the genitive ending. How awesome!
Friday is dydd Gwener – dies Veneris. The initial g has, I suspect, something to do with mutations of consonants at the start of words in Welsh (see a previous post), but again g-wener simply drops the genitive –is ending of veneris (with classical pronunciation of v as w).
Saturday is dydd Sadwrn – dies Saturnii (with w pronounced as oo, which you’ll be getting used to by now).
Sunday, finally, is dydd Sul – dies solis.
This isn’t just a loose connection: this is a consistent translation of the Latin stems, dropping the endings and adapting spelling to the Welsh tradition.
In fact, there seems to be a discrepancy between Welsh, Breton, and Cornish on the one hand, all of which retain the Roman tradition, and Irish and Scottish Gaelic on the other hand. I did some Irish when I studied at NUI Maynooth, and there the disconnection from the Roman – as indeed from the Germanic – tradition is clear:
Monday is dé Luain (pronounced – if I remember correctly – as [djay loo-ayn]), which again refers to the Latin luna, the moon.
Tuesday is dé Máirt, again referring to Mars, and Saturday is dé Sathairn, referring to Saturn as English indeed does as well.
The other days, however, use neither Germanic nor Roman roots, but instead refer to the Christian tradition. Wednesday is dé Céadaoin (pronounced [djay cay-deen]), which is the ‘first fast’, Thursday is Déardaoin ([djayrdeen]), the day between fasts, and Friday is dé hAoine ([djay heena]), ‘the fast’. Sunday, finally, is dé Domhnaigh, the day of… the Lord!
No more sun as in both English and Welsh, but a clear reference to Christianity and example of lexical acculturation, i.e. vocabulary of a language adapting to new concepts (in this case, the introduction of Christianity). This is similar to Romance languages, all of which refer to the Latin dominicus, ‘of the lord’ (from dominus, Lord). Spanish has domingo, French dimanche, Italian domenica.
Welsh and the Romans
Germanic languages such as English and Dutch seem to be the most syncretic in tradition, blending Germanic deities with the original Roman concept of naming days of the weeks after planets. Irish and Scottish Gaelic are similar, but instead blend the original Roman names of the planets with Christian references, indeed more so than Romance languages – a vestige, perhaps, of the strong Christian tradition in Medieval Ireland. Welsh is rather unique – along with Cornish and Breton, if Wikipedia is to be believed – in its complete adoption of Roman roots of the planets for its days of the week.
The question that can be asked now is of course ‘why?’. Why did Welsh retain the original Roman tradition while Romance and other Celtic languages incorporated Christian elements and Germanic languages blended Germanic and Roman traditions? Issues concerning the extent of Christian and other religious influences - the battle of the gods referred to in the title of this blog post - on different societies and questions concerning identity (both linguistic, religious, and political) might be part of the picture.
When we look at the linguistic aspect, however, I find the contrast between the Welsh days of the week and the Germanic and Romance traditions fascinating. I have noticed before that, while Welsh doesn’t have the high percentage (60%) of derivatives from Latin which English does, it does have clear connections, yet often in words where English in fact does not use Latin roots: window v fenestra and ffenestr, church v ecclesia and eglwys, and doctor (though of course that’s Latin too) v medicus and meddyg are by no means isolated examples. The days of the week further exemplify this. And as before, my knowledge of ancient languages is helping me learn Welsh, even in places where I had not anticipated it.
Written by Evelien Bracke
 Here are the translations: Dw i eisiau naw ceffyl; dych chi eisiau coffi, te a reis?; nac ydw, dw i ddim yn gweithio mewn theatr.
 I have unashamedly used Wikipedia as reference for this discussion, as the different traditions are so beautifully juxtaposed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_the_days_of_the_week.
 E.g. in German Mittwoch.
 E.g. in Swedish lördag.
 In a geeky sort of way.
 For every other day, Romance languages stick like glue to the original Roman tradition of naming days after moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, but for Sundays all of them have adopted the reference to the Christian god.